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Friday 25 December 2015

Introducing The Eat Up Crew: South Indian Food lovers of London

Ashanti, Zoe & me Momtaz!
So it started with a conversation on Twitter. My dear friend and South Indian Expert Ashanti Omkar and I tweeted about meeting up with our friend Food Blogger Zoe Perret to eat 'hoppers'. As we publicly shared dates and desires for what we'd like on the menu, other people listened in and interacted with our conversation, about how delicious South Indian food is. Before we knew it, we had recruited a group of Foodies and formed what is now known as The #EatUpCrew. We've been meeting up once a month since the summer, on Friday nights, each time acquiring new members.

These meet ups make take place in East Ham, East London, home of a number of South Indian eateries including Keralan and Chettinad. The flavours from the South Indian region are different to others parts of the country and even within it there are differences, for example in Kerala you'll find more coconut based dishes, while food in Chennai is hotter. 

Dish wise there are several that are associated with the region, including hoppers; a breakfast dish eaten in Sri Lanka and some parts of South India. They are bowl shaped crepes that are an alternative to rice, and they are a 'focal food' in the #EatUpCrew.

AUGUST part 1: Ananthapuram

For our first ever #EatUpCrew we went to a classic South Indian restaurant where we feasted on all manner of local delicacies...

My happiest moment was when the hoppers - (also known as Appams), arrived. They are hard to come by in the UK, not all South Indian restaurants serve them, but as an addict, I'm committed to travelling to wherever they are!

Here are some of the foodie loving folk who joined us for our inaugural #EatUpCrew...

AUGUST (part 2): UDAYA

A mere two weeks after our first eat-out, we met up again to celebrate the Keralan festival of Onam. For just £10 per person we each got 28 vegetarian dishes, served authentically on a banana leaf, eaten using hands...

The aspect that intrigued me the most was the ordering of the leaf, everyone's looked identical and each was served up in exactly the same order. 

Only served once a year, the Onam feast is usually something observed at home, so to have somewhere in London where you can come to sample of it is an amazing privilege. Anyone who is vegetarian (in fact much of the meal was vegan) should put the date in their diary now for next year and for those who aren't, the whole experience is so unique, it should be tried at least once in your life.

SEPTEMBER: Anjappar (Chettinad cuisine)

My first experience of Chettinad food, which is the local cuisine in Chennai, the menu here was diverse, affordable and delicious, if a little on the spicy side. We ordered an epic feast which included dishes like idli and sambar and a huge masala fish... 

The classic South Indian dosa was on the menu too and it was about as impressive as they get in size. (A dosa is a light crepe style dish with a filling, get the full lowdown on Zoe's blog.)

As I was new to Chettinad food I opted for a thali to get a flavour of what's on offer. It was an epic platter which included a small dessert of rice pudding with tapioca balls, which was so tasty I had another two pots of it afterwards!

The food here (although a little hot for my palette) was excellent value and the venue was spacious enough for a large group. They also accommodated our many requests for take away containers with ease - this Eat Up Crew never wastes, we'll always finish off any leftovers later! This is a restaurant we'll be visiting again, in 2016.

OCTOBER: Aappa Kadai, 315 High St North, East Ham, London, E12 6SL. 

This visit was one big hopper fest. The hoppers are made in view of you and you order them as you need them - and we all needed several!

Alongside the classic Bull's Eye egg hoppers, there were also meat, curried egg and cheese hoppers, which cost between £1 and £1.50. Each was used to mop up curries. The most popular of which was the garlic curry. I would never have thought of ordering a garlic curry but it was amazing. It consisted of soft, whole garlic cloves and was a bit like when you roast them and they become all yummy and moist inside.

The biggest revelation of the evening however, was that I had my first dessert hopper. A plain hopper with a filling of warm, sweet coconut milk, it was Comfort food with a capital C. So, so good. Every bite was a mouthful of heaven. Just writing about it is bringing back all the sensations. It's actually not listed on the menu, but now you know they make them, ask for one!

NOVEMBER: Hopper's London

The most anticipated restaurant opening in London in the South Asian food scene in 2016, Hoppers London has been reviewed and praised by just about every food journalist and publication growing with full mark reviews each time. At triple the price of what we are used to paying in East Ham, but in central London surroundings, with a swankier, rather than rustic setting, although initially we were a bit sceptical, the fuss became clear as soon as we sat down.

The first thing one needs to know about Hoppers London is that they don't take bookings, you have to queue. Upon arrival, our group were told the wait was one hour, which then changed to two hours so we chilled in a nearby pub beforehand. Just as the second round of drinks arrived we were messaged to say if we didn't get there in 10 minutes we would lose our table.

I feel this is a massive flaw in the service at Hoppers London, to chop and change timings is unfair then to be told you have two hours and then 10 minutes....it's not acceptable. If restaurants feel the need to run this way they should really have the option of some bookings and some drop ins. 

Thankfully despite this poor level of service in terms of trying to eat here, the food was delicious, menu prices not as bad as we had anticipated and the atmosphere was warm and welcoming, though seating is a little cramped.

We began with testing out the 'short eats' part of the menu, which is essentially starters and included Sri Lankan specialities like string hoppers (light noodles) and bone marrow before going onto the main event - the hoppers! 

Perfectly formed and served with your choice of curry and optional condiments, the hopper was a joy to eat and everyone polished it off with ease. Most of us had two hoppers to mop up the curry, before we then ordered the full dessert menu which we devoured in an instant, they were all divine. 

Our meal came to £25pp with drinks and all of us enjoyed the food. I would definitely like to go back I'm just sure sure about the whole booking/queing/trying to get a table situation. I hope they read this and realise the system needs improving. 

DECEMBER: Aappa Kadai (again!) 315 High St North, East Ham, London, E12 6SL. 

For our final feast of the year, it had to be hoppers so we we returned to Aappa Kadai, where before we put our hopper orders in, we dined on a medley of starters including crispy okra and battered cauliflower. And of course we ended the meal with yummy dessert, coconut milk infused hoppers. 
Our meal with drinks came to £15pp. 


We've not set dates for 2016 yet but we've agreed that the #EatUpCrew will continue. It's been a real pleasure to connect with so many new people, all bound by our passion for South Indian food. It's a great way to do something social, without the pressures of spending too much money and with food is common, breaking the ice for conversations is easy. 

If the idea of trying South Indian food, sampling different dishes, or simply hanging out with some friendly people, follow the hashtag #EatUpCrew on twitter or get in touch with me.

Here's to more foodie friends and foodie gatherings in 2016!